CHICAGO — The Michigan football team featured a fearsome defensive line last season that racked up 30 sacks and helped to anchor one of the nation’s top defenses.
Much of that production is gone to the NFL this year. Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow and Taco Charlton — three of the four starters — were drafted this past spring, while Matt Godin, who started 12 games at three-technique defensive tackle, graduated.
The Wolverines, though, bring back several contributors — chief among them sophomore end Rashan Gary and fifth-year senior tackle Maurice Hurst.
Gary, formerly the nation’s top recruit, is expected to step into Wormley’s ANCHOR spot and Hurst is assumed to be the starter at Godin’s position. Both saw significant playing time last season, with Gary tallying 23 tackles, five tackles-for-loss and 0.5 sacks as a backup. Hurst posted 33 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss and five sacks while splitting time — oftentimes receiving the majority of snaps — with Godin.
Gary has much fewer counting stats compared to his counterpart. Despite that, he was named one of college football’s top "freaks" while also landing ahead of Hurst on Sports Illustrated’s list of the nation’s top-100 players, coming in at No. 22 — 49 spots ahead of Hurst.
The Gary hype train, it would appear, has been on the road for quite some time. His coach, though, thinks that the sophomore has done a good job of dealing with all of the attention.
“He's had a lot of hype. He's had a lot of adulation. And there's some people that that's what they live for. They live for approval of others and to be recognized as a hyped-up player,” Harbaugh said. “And then there's other people that they see that hype or that adulation and they go by it like it's an orange cone on the side of the road. There's some people that are just aspiring for greater things than just the adulation of somebody. And I think Rashan is that type of guy. You'd really like him. He really doesn't care too much about that.
“He's gone by it like it's a cone, orange cone on the side of the road. And he just works and I really think competing is his favorite thing to do. And he has the ability to be great. I don't know what more to say about that.”
Harbaugh fielded a similar question about Hurst, and according to him, the fifth-year senior has done just as well. Both, in Harbaugh’s eyes, have the potential to be great players — and in that process, may help Michigan forget who it lost along the defensive line from last year.
“I think Mo has handled it good. I think it's been overdue. And maybe Mo feels that way. But I think he's enjoying that,” Harbaugh said. “I think he's enjoying that people are appreciating what he does as a football player and what he brings to the football team, even on our own team.
“Our appreciation for him is probably the first, and I think he likes that. And I think that drives him to be even better. I think he's got a chance to be really good, again. He's got the license and the ability to be really great. And we appreciate the heck out of him. And I hope he does like that. I hope he keeps going, because he's got a chance to be really good.”